A Palestinian delegation of representatives of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were due to arrive in Cairo Tuesday to discuss a revised version of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. The new element in the proposal is expected to be joint Palestinian consent to the deployment of members of the Palestinian Authority's Presidential Guard on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, together with an agreement in principle to return to the cease-fire agreements from 2012.
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The delegation will include Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah, who led the reconciliation talks with Hamas; Ziyad al-Nakhalah of Islamic Jihad; Mousa Abu Marzook of Hamas; and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj.
According to Palestinian sources, all the sides have agreed that the question of opening the Rafah crossing has nothing to do with Israel and is exclusively a Palestinian-Egyptian matter. The agreement on these issues and on the delegation’s trip to Cairo was reached Monday following a long telephone conversation between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. The call took place after Abbas spoke with the ruler of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
In the absence of contact between the Egyptian president and the Qatari leader, Abbas became a “secondary mediator” with the administration in Cairo with respect to revision of the Egyptian proposal.
It is expected that after their meeting, members of the delegation on all sides will reach new understandings based on the Egyptian cease-fire proposal and on other agreements reached among the groups.
If the report is true that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have agreed to the deployment of Presidential Guard forces at the Rafah crossing, this will be a significant concession by Hamas, which demanded until now that only its own people supervise the terminals there.
At the same time, however, the declaration that the arrangement at Rafah has nothing to do with Israel puts full responsibility for its opening on Cairo, which will have a hard time refusing the demand.
Although Egypt is not a party to the border-crossing accords of 2005, which state, among other things, that inspectors from the PA and the Quartet will be stationed at the crossing, it has declared until now that it is not willing to have Hamas operatives there. Israel, which is a party to the accords, could protest the opening of the border crossing in violation of those agreements, but it will not be able to accuse Egypt of violating them.
The Palestinian delegation’s trip to Cairo pushes the mediation of Qatar and Turkey to the sidelines and, ostensibly at least, restores Egypt to its status as holding the monopoly over managing the “Palestinian portfolio.” This move could impose an inconvenient timetable upon Israel for hastening the end of the fighting in Gaza, since if the sides reach an understanding with Cairo, it will be al-Sissi rather than Washington, the European Union or the United Nations, who demands the immediate implementation of a cease-fire.